Italian-American Labor Council Records
Language of Materials
The Italian-American Labor Council (IALC) was formed in direct response to Mussolini's declaration of war against the United States in 1941. It lobbied successfully against the implementation of the Enemy Alien Act of 1942 which designated all German, Italian and Japanese nationals as enemy aliens. In the years after the Second World War, the IALC organized aid for post-war Italy. In the 1950s, it also played an instrumental role in forming the "Free Labor Movement" that opposed the Italian Communists and Communist-orientated labor organizations. These records include operational materials, clippings and correspondence of the IALC from its founding in 1941 to 1996.
On December 20, 1941, the Italian-American Labor Council (IALC) was formed in direct response to Mussolini's declaration of war against the United States, which had occurred ten days earlier. Although the IALC was formed in direct response to fascism, its roots illustrate their rise within the organized labor movement.
Since the nineteenth century, through persistent political exertion, Italian-American labor leaders have transformed the initially disunited groups of Italian-American workers into a united force within organized labor. Such leaders as Salvatore Ninfo, Arturo Giovannitti, Carlo Tresca, and Joseph Catalanotti, who would later become founding members of the IALC, orchestrated these early efforts. From 1913 to 1919, for example, the Italian-Americans in the garment trades in New York City developed three powerful locals: Local 63 (Italian Coatmakers) of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) headed by Augusto Bellanca, and Locals 48 (Italian Coatmakers) and 89 (Italian Dressmakers) of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), led respectively by Eduardo Molisani and Luigi Antonini. Antonini would later become the pivotal force behind the founding of the IALC.
In 1934, Antonini became the ILGWU's first vice-president under president David Dubinsky. Dubinsky, who was Treasurer of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), encouraged Antonini to take up the cause of the Italian trade unionists and form the IALC. The IALC and the JLC have continued to act as fraternal allies, coordinating activities and sharing resources. By 1940, Local 89 had 33,500 members and could stake a claim as one of the largest union locals in the United States. During this period, Antonini utilized weekly broadcasts entitled Voce della Locale 89 (Voice of Local 89) along with the Italian-language edition of the ILGWU's newspaper, Giustizia, to extend his influence among Italian-American workers. Antonini's sway over the Local 89 membership remained the source of his power and placed him at the top of Italian-American labor leadership at the outbreak of World War II.
On December 10, 1941, three days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mussolini declared war on the United States. Italian-Americans had to contend with the complicated politics of identity, as well as an uncertain future in the United States. President Roosevelt issued several presidential proclamations that contributed to the United States' World War II enemy alien control programs. These proclamations threatened to restrict and possibly imprison individuals who were not citizens. In response to these circumstances, the IALC leadership met for the first time on December 20, 1941. They chose as their slogan, "America's Victory is Italy's Freedom." At the end of its first year, the IALC could claim affiliates with a membership of 300,000 workers.
The first act of the IALC was to lobby successfully, on behalf of Italian-Americans, against the implementation of the Enemy Alien Act of 1942, which designated all German, Italian and Japanese nationals as enemy aliens. Italian-Americans found themselves facing the possibility of a massive forced removal from the east and west coasts of the United States to incarceration in the Mid-West. In order to emphasize Italian-American loyalty to America, the IALC organized a "Freedom Rally" at Madison Square Garden on January 31, 1942. Twenty-two thousand people attended this assembly.
The IALC also engaged in practical political lobbying. The IALC was the first organization to put forward a proposal for the "exoneration of Italians from the category of Enemy Alien." In late spring 1942, Antonini went to Washington, D.C. and met with FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Francis Biddle. Through Antonini's collaborative efforts with Biddle, Italian-Americans were completely exempted from the Enemy Alien category. For his efforts in removing the enemy alien stigma from 600,000 Italian-Americans, Attorney General Biddle, in 1943, became the first recipient of the IALC's Four Freedoms Award. This citation was created to honor "meritorious services rendered to the cause of liberty among the people throughout the world." During this period, the IALC also raised funds for the Italian resistance movement and facilitated the settlement of Italian refugees.
In 1943, a political division formed within the IALC. One faction included those individuals who refused to work with the Communists. This group formed the American Committee for Italian Democracy and remained a part of the IALC. The second bloc covered those workers who accepted the Communists. This camp organized the Free Italy Labor Council. These factions reunited in 1958.
In the years after the Second World War, the IALC organized clothing drives and fundraising events for a war-ravaged Italy. In the 1950s, it also played an instrumental role in forming the "Free Labor Movement" that opposed the Italian Communists and Communist-orientated labor organizations. They have continued to act as interpreters of Italian politics for United States governmental officials and have also served as communicators of American labor policy to Italian trade unionists. The organization has organized official delegations, educational missions and good-will tours to Italy, and has regularly hosted visits from Italian political, labor and cultural leaders. The IALC has served as a bridge between the Italian and U.S. labor movements, as the voice of labor in the Italian-American community, and as a sponsor of philanthropic, cultural and political interchange between the two countries.
Organized into two series: I. Constitutions, Bylaws and Minutes; II; General Files.
Series I is arranged chronologically and Series II is arranged alphabetically by subject.
Scope and Content Note
The records of the Italian American Labor Council span the years 1941-1996. The records consist of IALC Conference Proceedings, minutes of the Executive Board and Board of Directors (1941-1995), "Four Freedoms" awards, materials from tours to Italy, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and pamphlets. The records document the organization's founding, activities, commemoration celebrations, and organizational life.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).
Identification of item, date; Records of the Italian-American Labor Council; WAG 091; box number; folder number or item identifier; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by the Italian-American Labor Council in 1992 and 1997. The accession number associated with this gift is 1992.008.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Due to the fragile nature of the original materials, researchers must use the microfilmed version of the minutes in Series I; microfilm call number is R-7458.
Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures
Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact Tamiment Library & Wagner Labor Archives, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-998-2596 with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.
About this Guide
Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2021 are unknown. In 2021, narrative description was revised in the historical note to more accurately describe the threat of forced removal and incarceration of Italian Americans during World War II. Legacy narrative description also contains language regarding citizenship status (e.g. the Enemy Alien Act, and references to it), but has been retained to convey important contextual information regarding time and place which the materials were created.
Researchers can access previous versions of the finding aid in our GitHub repository at https://github.com/NYULibraries/findingaids_eads/commits/master/tamwag/wag_091.xml.